Monday, June 25, 2007

Health Care Fun, or: Maybe I Should Take My Chances With The Mosquitoes

Here's an outline of the trail of calls I've been making today, trying to get the last of my immunizations in order. Everything is taken care of except the malaria tablets, which I've held off until now because the student health service told me they should be taken four weeks before departure.

1st call: my university's student health service.

"Hi, I'd like to get a prescription for malaria tablets!"

"Are you taking summer classes?"

"No, but I've paid for summer health insurance."

"Well, I'm sorry, but our facilities are only available to students taking summer classes."

(Trying not to sound irritated:) "Then where can I go with my insurance policy?"

I get a phone number of a local health department. A phone tree takes me to the immunizations wing. It takes almost four hours to get a live person on the phone (the phone tree dumps me into an answering machine; I leave my name and number, and call back every hour thereafter as there is no response... on the fifth try I get a human).

"Hello, foreign immunizations, how may I help you?"

"I'd like to get a prescription for malaria tablets, please!"

"Do you have a written prescription from a physician?"

"No -- may I make an appointment with one?"

"I'm sorry; we don't have any physicians on staff."

You don't have any physicians on staff? At the Local County Health Department? Don't even the smallest of rural clinics have physicians?

"Okay, where can I call to set up an appointment with a physician?"

And then I get this speech about how it's going to be difficult, because most hospitals in the area don't even stock malaria tablets, because who goes to India these days? (My guess is at least some of the 800 desis who attended the Bollywood concert make a trip, now and again, but refrained from saying it aloud.) But she puts me on hold for a while and then tells me that she's got the name of a pharmacy that currently has malaria tablets in stock, and that I should call them and have them refer me to a physician.

I call the number.

"Hello, student health service pharmacy!"

Well, this isn't going to do me any good.

But the guy on the other end of the phone is more than helpful. From him I learn the following:

1. Yes, they have malaria tablets in stock.
2. No, I can't get a student health services physician to write a prescription for me... because I'm not taking summer classes. (At this point I'm considering enrolling.)
3. He would be able to fill the prescription for me if I got a physician at another hospital or clinic to write it.
4. This would not be covered by my insurance.
5. Neither would the physician's visit.

Okay... and matching his polite cheerfulness (while resisting asking him why the university insists I purchase their insurance to remain enrolled if I cannot actually access said benefits, much less the student health service itself), I ask him if he can refer me to a physician.

He can't. He mentions the County Health Department. I explain that I called them and they have nobody on staff able to write a presciption. He suggests the health department in the next county over.

At this point, it is too late in the day to call (the place closes at 4:30 in the afternoon), but I will continue these adventures tomorrow.

There is a hospital, of course, where I live, and I'm sure it must have physicians -- I wonder what would happen if I called over there?

Or I could forego the entire thing and trust that since I'm already immunized against Hep A, B, typhoid, and polio, maybe I'll get lucky with the malaria. ^__^ After all, as I learned today, India has no actual immunization requirements.



Anonymous said...


most desis I know don't take malaria tablets! BTW, if the malaria tablet in question is "Larium" please google it - that tablet is known to cause lots of problems.

Besides, aren't you going in August? That's not malaria season AFAIK. Normal precaustions re: health seem to be more than adequate for my family, which includes children born here, so built-up immunity from India.
As for me, I delight in eating just like I did when I lived there - street food etc. - and find that my immune system still accepts it just fine...common allergens in the US however - blah!

Good Luck!


Daniel said...

SO, here's what you do. Do you have a doctor at home? Or a friend who's a doctor? Get that doctor to call your student health service and request the pills for you.

I hate medical bureaucracy!